The ocean is constantly transforming my idea of how beautiful a place can be. Yet it’s almost as if this picturesque peace is a cruel, colorful illusion – because what seems so balanced and beautiful below, finds itself in an increasingly dire state.
Being in the ocean behind a lens reminds me of a rare kind of beauty in this world that’s been forgotten. We’ve forgotten the beauty of what already exists, in rapacious pursuit of something “more” – searching for things we think we need, by destroying a world we already have.
We pursue “global security” by exploding our most powerful weapons across regal coral reefs like this one; “power” our lives by gushing fossil fuels into the air and sea, while polluting our most valuable resources; produce endless amounts of “stuff” that feeds an addictive materialism and pollutes and sickens the planet; and violently pursue a strange kind of “peace,” that means we aren’t necessarily “in war,” yet find ourselves in a world that is increasingly weaponized, xenophobic, and angry. Progress pursued at the cost of our planet — is this really progress at all?
We are the living, breathing, somewhat-struggling epitome of what environmental sociologist Ulrich Beck termed the “Risk Society”: a civilization that has willfully embraced tremendous, manufactured risk, in our pursuit of industrialized development. We risk things like our health, our environment, our future and overall well-being, for the pursuit of industrialization that we think equates to sophistication and progress. But now, with the eruption of unprecedented, climate-fueled wildfires; intensifying, destructive storms; dying coral reefs and food insecurity; polluted water, land, and air; the militarization of commerce and the violence it’s unleashed; and a steadily growing population of climate refugees – we’ve watched a theory on paper unfold tragically before our own eyes. Industrialization came, and now risks become reality — is this the world we hoped to achieve?
Being down here, in a world of such intricate balance – where every fish, coral, rock, algae, everything – contributes completely to its complex community, I can’t help but feel like we’ve been led to pursue the wrong goals. We can pursue an energy paradigm that not only minimizes harm to our planet, but actually enhances it; we can promote peace and global security with means besides exploding toxic, polluting weaponry across our oceans and reefs; we can achieve thriving, healthy, connected communities, where our basic needs don’t entail enormous risks, and the pursuit of goals like security, energy, health, and happiness don’t destroy the fundamental elements that make life possible.
Or we can continue down the path we’ve created, until sights like a crystal-clear, blue ocean, moments of effortless balance and beauty in living, connected systems, become relics of a world lost.
Even in its struggling state, the ocean continues to produce beauty that twists the heart and addicts the soul. It’s a beauty that can’t be bought with money, produced in a factory, reinvented into existence by science, politicians, or human desire – it can only be obtained if we appreciate what already exists, and what cannot be replaced. We can’t afford to let it go.